Semifinal notes: Virginia vs. Syracuse

The first NCAA tournament semifinal started with a goal by Virginia's Shamel Bratton that featured, by my estimation, a new dodge that I have not seen before. He ran at the goal and the defender and then stopped short. The defender kept backpedaling and the Cavalier freshman was left with the Syracuse keeper and some good shooting space. He cocked and put a hard shot in the corner of the goal. It was spectacular.

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The first semifinal game was wild. The overtime was even wilder. Each team had so many chances to win and either team could have easily won this one in the first overtime but for a pipe or bad bounce. It was riveting action. Bud Petit was fantastic in the Virginia cage. If not for Michael Gvozden's spectacular play all weekend for Hopkins, I would have voted for Petit as the All-Tournament Goalie, even with the loss in the semis.

Virginia attackman Ben Rubeor was stopped cold by Syracuse defenseman Sid Smith and U.Va. attacker Garret Billings had a sub-par outing. To his credit, they needed him, playing big, to win in 2008. Without Billings, this was not a tournament team. It would have been a real rebuilding year. He's my surprise player of the season.

Danny Glading's pipe with a minute left was a true heartbreaker for Virginia. The pipe was so cruel all weekend. Rubeor had the cage wide open in the middle of the seconnd overtime and hit the pipe with a wind-up rocket when a softy would likely have stopped the madness right there.

Syracuse attackman Mike Leveille was solid all weekend, keeping the Orange in Saturday's game for a while before Dan Hardy and Steven Brooks came alive in the second half. In the second overtime, to win the game Leveille, one of my favorite attackers, had to beat Ken Clausen, one of my favorite defenders. High drama is what this tournament is all about. Leveille drove from behind the cage but Clausen held him tough and gave him no opportunity for a shot or feed long enough that the impending double by Will Barrow sent Leveille cutting back the other way.

As he sprinted back toward X, he changed direction again at the goal line extended (GLE) and drove hard on Clausen, getting a half-step ahead this time and maintaining it for a few more steps. Just as he reached the point where Barrow would leave his man and double the shot, Leveille let go a perfectly screened worm-burner that neither Clausen or Barrow could reach and Petit could not see.

It's amazing how many shots that score at this level are screened, mostly inadvertently. The defense and goalie play is so good in the final four that most shots need something else, a Paul Rabil shot-speed, a good bounce or a little visual obstruction. I rarely see a purposeful screen on any lacrosse fields any more. Leveille's goal was screened. Most of Gary Gait's college goals were screened shots. He did it on purpose. He showed that it was deception and placement rather than speed that could beat the best keepers like Sal LoCascio, Doc Dougherty and Quint Kessenich. Since then the screen has all but disappeared from game strategy. How many times every game do you see a goalie yelling at his defense for getting in the path of the shot and screening him? And we don't do it on purpose?

Did you see Syracuse freshman Jevon Miller's diving lefty drive? I want to see him start that leap a few feet earlier so he doesn't land in the crease and he'll have a signature shot that will be hard to beat. He saved a ball going out of bounds in the final that really showed off his athletic ability. I had not seen him before and was impressed.

Semifinal notes: Hopkins vs. Duke

Kevin Huntley was awesome. Gvozden was better. Rabil dominated the offense and the Hopkins' defense dominated the other end. The Hopkins' game plan was effective. Slowing the game to a half-field affair was perhaps the only way to slow Duke, and Hopkins stopped them, led by defenseman Michael Evans and secondteamwork.

Only Georgetown had beaten Duke before in 2008 and the games looked similar to me. In my opinion, the difference in each was the Duke play and not necessarily the defensive strategy or effort, which in both cases, were stellar. In both games, the Duke superstars just seemed mortal and beatable. If you saw any of the other Duke games this year, they were far from beatable and as near to immortal as I can remember a team being. I couldn't believe it when Georgetown beat them and I found the thought of Hopkins dominating Duke absurd before Saturday. I thought that Duke would lose this weekend, but I though Syracuse would get to play the Karma Police role. Hopkins' upset, because of the Baltimore school's perennial contender role, will never be appreciated for what it was – HUGE!

I have to make a special note of the game Max Quinzani played for Duke. He played with more heart than any player in the game. With the Hopkins lead at two and time running out, he got a second try at a ball in the crease with a great effort after a rebounded shot by Steve Schoeffel. Only moments later as the game clock ran out he gave the Blue Devils one last chance with his sheer effort and quick thinking. A timeout was called (late in my opinion) by Duke with three seconds left in the game. Matt Danowski worked quickly and effectively getting off a good shot that was saved by Gvozden who shuttled the ball to his back right. Duke's Zack Greer and Quinzani darted for the loose ball and their tournament lives. Quinzani picked the ball up in one movement and placed it softly but intently in the direction of the crease. Duke midfielder Ned Crotty was there but allowed a Hopkins defender to get between him and the action and the handle on the desperate pass was impossible.

The pipe also played a part in this semifinal. With Hopkins leading 9-8, Quinzani took a shot, hit the post hard and the ball ended up past the restraining line and the Duke midfield and in the hands of a Hopkins middie, starting a fast break which ended with a Huntley goal and a 10-8 score. It was the winning goal.

No Asterisks Necessary

The TV broadcast of the semis with Duke losing to Hopkins, was like grand theater, the likes of a Shakespeare classic. ESPN wove in interviews with lacrosse notables giving their opinions on the extra eligibility issue and did a special report on the situation, staying neutral themselves but allowing the parties to represent themselves in their own words. The words of the Duke folks, even the eloquent and thoughtful coach John Danowski, just sounded self-serving next to the other arguments. It was like the only people that needed to be treated fairly were the people wronged by the false accusations.

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I am sure that the audience still retained some good will toward these young men who were obviously victims to an egregious case of unfair treatment by the accuser, Mike Nifong, Durham leaders, Duke athletic department, Duke students, the press and, most despicably, the faculty.

But after each of the Duke personnel had fully stated their cases in the ESPN report, I assume most of that was gone. The people interviewed never mentioned fairness generally, just that they were wronged. "Put yourself in our shoes," they kept saying directly and indirectly, and in essence that's what the NCAA solution did. It put other players in the shoes of the Duke kids – losing opportunity due to no actions of their own. It basically punished them all for Duke's mistake. The NCAA decision spread around the misery that should have been contained at all costs. Right or wrong, the Duke stance on the extra eligibility and especially the records, blatantly favors their own best interests over those of the game, its integrity and history.

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The Duke loss capped off the tragic saga aptly. With the Hopkins win and the Virginia loss to Syracuse, all of the 2006 Duke players were eliminated and the final would be played in an asterisk free environment. The game dodges one bullet. We still have to get those eight 2006 games and their statistics expunged from the records and the real damage done to the game by the false accusation scandal will be fixed.

Coincidentally, while all this was playing out on ESPN, the lacrosse commercials running were Warrior ads, which are of questionable content, imitating Asian films and perhaps Asians themselves. Its borderline, at best, but that's what Warrior does. The irony is that this is the same company that produced a stripper T-Shirt for sale at the 2006 World Games, before the Duke players were exonerated. The company founded by Princeton player Dave Morrow, but now owned by New Balance, is no stranger to controversy, often including or alluding to illegal, rude and indecent behavior in much of their advertising targeted at young kids.

Check back later today for my notes on the final and the championship weekend overall.

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